The U.S. leading index, a key barometer of economic conditions, fell 0.2 percent in August, the Conference Board reported today.

The leading index now stands at 137.6 (1996=100). Based on revised data, this index decreased 0.1 percent in July and increased 1.1 percent in June. During the six-month span through August, the leading index increased 0.4 percent, with five out of 10 components advancing.

The leading index decreased slightly in August, its second consecutive fall. As actual and revised data for the manufacturing new orders components became available, July’s slight increase was revised down to a small decrease and there were small downward revisions to the previous months. In August, the main negative contributor to the leading index was the index of consumer expectations. The strengths and weaknesses in the leading indicators have been somewhat balanced but much of the strength in the leading index in recent months comes from the interest-rate spread. (The economic effects of Hurricane Katrina are not reflected in the August values.)

Five of the 10 indicators that make up the leading index increased in August. The positive contributors – beginning with the largest positive contributor – were interest-rate spread, manufacturers’ new orders for nondefense capital goods, manufacturers’ new orders for consumer goods and materials, real money supply, and stock prices. The negative contributors – beginning with the largest negative contributor – were index of consumer expectations, vendor performance and building permits. The average weekly manufacturing hours and average weekly initial claims for unemployment insurance (inverted) held steady in August.

The growth rate of real GDP has slowed to a 3.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter of 2005, down from a 4.3 percent rate in the first quarter of 2004. The behavior of the leading index (pre-Hurricane Katrina) is consistent with the economy continuing to expand more moderately in the near term.

The coincident index, a measure of current economic activity, increased again in August. The coincident index has been increasing at a relatively steady 2.5 percent annual rate since April 2003, but its growth rate has moderated in recent months. The strength among the coincident indicators continues to be widespread.

The Conference Board is as nonprofit research and business group.


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